Blame it on the Coronavirus
We just started this column, and it’s already time to send it on hiatus. Across the state of California, public gatherings are banned, and that includes theaters. All is dark in the Bay Area, indoors… or out. Cal Shakes, which performs in a bucolic arena nestled in a wooded glen, has canceled its 2020 season. The more than 300 theatre companies are sitting this one out.
Yet, two of the largest theaters have found a way to keep going. Both Berkeley Rep and American Conservatory Theatre are allowing ticket holders to view canceled performances via streaming online video. Tickets are also being sold for those who want to go the hi-def route. Call the box office, and you’ll be directed to a password-protected site.
The first two A.C.T. streamings are Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins’ Gloria and Lyndia R. Diamond’s Toni Stone. Pulitzer finalist Gloria unveils the spirit of the American office workplace where biting mockery tackles relentless ambition. Toni Stone is the story of the first woman in the U.S. to play professional baseball. In the 1940s, Toni Stone played second base for the San Francisco Sea Lions, part of what was then called the Negro Leagues. She more than held her own on the field.
Making it just under the wire, sort of, was the San Francisco Youth Theatre’s production Gary Soto’s The Afterlife. Two teenagers, a murder victim, a suicide victim, along with a homeless woman dying in the street, meet in the world beyond. Soto, a well-known author of young adult fiction, is said to have captured the largest readership of Latino children and young adults in the nation. The coronavirus ban closed The Afterlife after only three performances.
Dawn Ursala is the title character in the A.C.T. production of Toni Stone. Photo: American Conservatory Theatre
Edwin Jacobs (Chuy) and Bianca Catalan (Crystal) in the San Francisco Youth Theatre production of The Afterlife. Photo: Aleksey Bochkovsky.
Ironically, The Afterlife was the last play to be produced at The Flight Deck, a showcase for small theatre companies in downtown Oakland. The theater lost its lease to the overheated real estate market.
However, in one case, the predations of Bay Area real estate developers actually turned to support for the arts in downtown San Jose. A real estate company bought up a whole block to tear down and replace with a high-rise office tower. One of the buildings to be demolished housed the up-and-coming City Lights Theatre, a showplace for contemporary plays. The developer rushed to include City Lights in the new development, and a new theatre is scheduled to rise from the rubble.
That’s all from here for now. Stay safe and keep washing your hands.
Gary Carr is a playwright, author, and publicist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His published work includes The Left Side of Paradise: The Screenwriting of John Howard Lawson, The Girl Who Founded Nebraska and other stories, and the play Jenny Gets Her Wheels On. He has worked as a busboy, truck driver, and university professor.